“Transilience Thought Unifier Model-11,” the premiere episode of Fringe‘s fifth and final season picks up some hours after last season’s back door to an extra season episode 19, “Letters of Transit.” Strangely, if you want to jump on Fringe in its final hours, this episode offered a great opportunity, an exposition dump that sets up the characters and their world heading into the final stretch. We’ll go into the episode briefly after a hardy breakfast of tea and egg sticks…
So the year is 2036. Observers, supposedly benign watchmen from the future, have taken over the world, subjugated the population into a fascistic nightmare of Orwellian proportions, and have paved over the trees to bring the carbon monoxide levels up to more bearable levels (for them). In a few years, the damage the Observers have wrought will not be able to be undone, we’re told.
But never fear, the Fringe team is here. Walter, Peter and Astrid having been rescued from amber by Etta in “Letters of Transit,” now look for Olivia and the means to rid the world of bald, fedora-wearing Eichmanns. Olivia was ambered separately, while trying to being Walter the Transilience Thought Unifier Model-11. You see, Walter and the friendly Observer September had worked out the plan, and then separated the plan into segregated pieces in Walter’s mind. The Unifier will allow Walter’s mind to bring the pieces together and unveil the plan. (No word though on the “unexpected” events that happened to September that Walter mentioned in “Letters.”)
Throughout the hour we see shades of what transpired between end of season 4 and the beginning of season 5. The episode began with a disjointed and jarring flashback of the day the Observer invasion began; a pleasant day in the park for the Bishop family – Olivia, Peter and young Etta – is ruined when the Observers arrive and advance on the Bishops. Young Etta was taken and the resulting grief put a wedge between Olivia and Peter; she joined the resistance in New York, he stayed in Boston to keep searching. But with everyone reunited in 2036, the family dynamic still seems intact.
The hour hinged on first finding Olivia, but in the scramble to evade Loyalists, Walter himself is captured. Capt. Windmark (who we first saw in “Letters”) interrogates Walter in a scene that’s eerily reminiscent of The Matrix, with Windmark in the Agent Smith part and Walter as Morpheus. Despite Walter’s efforts, including some pretty twitch-inducing eye bleeding, his thoughts betray him: the laid out pieces of plan scattered across his brain by an Observer, and thoughts of a little blonde girl…
In the end, Walter and September’s plan, and all its pieces, are gone from Walter’s head, and Windmark seems to have put two and two together in regards to the identity of the little girl that was so important to Walter. In the music-less Observer-filled world, Walter chases the source of a reflector that’s shining sunlight through the window. It’s a mobile of CDs, and in a nearby bag, Walter finds an intact disc labelled “Travel Mix 6.” When he puts it in the CD player of an abandoned cab, the electro-synth sounds of Yaz’s “Only You” croon out of the speakers.
Like a lot of Fringe premieres, the episode is carried mostly by the promise of things to come and the brilliance of its cast. There’s a lot of set-up here, a lot of explanations and a fair amount of exposition. It doesn’t seem like the writers are wholly invested in the fractured relationship of Peter and Olivia, and if it weren’t for the entire scene dedicated to them talking about it, I probably wouldn’t have noticed anything different in their relationship status (it’s not like they stop and make out while on the case or anything). It also seems like the writers weren’t wholly dedicated to the return of mean Walter either. You’ll recall that in “Letters,” a trip to Massive Dynamic resulted in Walter having certain, more devious portions of his brain activated, but post-Windmark’s interrogation, Walter’s more child-like attributes seem to have reasserted themselves.
The hour had some cool details though. Peter’s bookstore buddy Markham appears as Olivia’s would-be Prince Charming, and the entire gang takes a trip to a black market straight out of Blade Runner, where “Amber Gypsies” will sell you your recovered ambered loved ones. What’s still missing though is a rationale for the Observers coming back in time and going all Gestapo on us. Is Walter’s one line explanation about the Observers wrecking the Earth in 2609 all we’re going to get in terms of justifications? What’s the end game for the Observers too? We know that for our human heroes its a world free of creepy bald dudes that breathe polluted air, but surely guys known for observing history know that a subjugated human population will only remain subjugated for so long till they rise up en masse. So is there a bigger plan afoot?
Thankfully, the heart remains on Fringe, that surprisingly unabashed optimism and romanticism that makes this TV series such a winner in the hearts and minds of its fans. Despite the torture he endured, despite being left adrift in a music-less world, despite being taunted by Windmark saying, “Nothing grows on scorched earth,” a lone dandelion grows through the pavement. Hope lives, and so does Fringe. For 12 more episodes.